In 1982, four years after Michael Myers terrorized babysitters in Halloween and two years after Mr. Voorhees slaughtered summer camp counselors in Friday the 13th, the slasher genre turned to a different type of prey: High school girls gathered at a slumber party.
Filmed for an estimated $250,000, and produced, in part, by genre icon Roger Corman, The Slumber Party Massacre was at once a send-up of the popular crazed killer films flooding theaters and an unabashedly gory blast of feminist rage.
Written by Rita Mae Brown, and directed by Amy Holden Jones (a former film editor whose lengthy resume includes screenplays for Mystic Pizza and Beethoven), The Slumber Party Massacre defied convention even as it gleefully sprayed fountains of blood across the screen.
For once, the psychotic killer wasn’t an unstoppable, masked embodiment of evil, but instead a regular guy named Russ Thorn (Michael Villella) who used a power drill, among other weapons, to impale and mutilate his comely victims.
No one at the time could have predicted that 36 years later, The Slumber Party Massacre would still be relevant, much less a beloved cult classic. No one, including the film’s young cast.
“It’s just amazing,” said Joseph Alan Johnson of Pasadena, Florida, who played Neil, one of two male characters who crash the slumber party only to fall victim to Russ. “There are a million other horror movies out there, but this one has such longevity, and people like it and identify with it. I don’t know, I really can’t tell you why it’s that popular.”
This week, as part of its annual A Nightmare on Franklin Street film festival, Tampa Theater is giving longtime fans and new devotees a chance to not only watch The Slumber Party Massacre on the big-screen, but hear from many of the actors who starred in it.
Following the screening, Tampa film critic EJ Moreno will moderate a panel discussion with stars Johnson, Debra De Liso (“Kim”) and Michele Michaels (“Trish”). After the Q&A, all three actors will meet with fans in the theater lobby to sign autographs and pose for photos for $10 apiece.
Tampa Theater is asking fans to wear their best pajamas to the screening to create a memorable, one-night-only slumber party of their own.
Attendees on Thursday can expect lots of juicy, behind-the-scenes stories about filming the cult classic. Johnson himself has plenty, whether it’s sharing how Villella never broke character on-set and constantly menaced the cast or how the film was originally titled Sleepless Night.
“When I got the part, I was so excited, then we get the final script and it’s called Slumber Party Massacre and there’s all this gore and blood,” he said. “Even the people they rented the house from, they didn’t tell them it was Slumber Party Massacre. They had to repaint the whole place and drain the pool because it was filled with blood.”
Johnson, who continues to perform and write plays, including Cellmate Confessions, which debuted in 2010 at The [email protected] in St. Petersburg, said he is amazed when he appears at horror film conventions and meets fans who share their love.
Johnson was 21 when he was cast as Neil, a 16-year-old high school student. Fans often tell him they were about Neil’s age, or younger, when they first discovered the movie, either while their parents were out to dinner or because their babysitter allowed them to watch it.
Some fans show off tattoos inspired by the film. Others confess to even more permanent devotion.
“There was one woman who named her baby after my character in the movie,” Johnson said, chuckling. “It’s a little creepy, but these people are very nice. When someone tells you their favorite movie is Slumber Party Massacre, what are you going to do?”
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.